Henry Lerolle's "The Organ Rehearsal"

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Today marks the anniversary of the death of Henry Lerolle, a French painter, art collector, and patron. Though Lerolle is not as well known as some of his contemporaries, he has recently begun to receive more attention, especially for his large 1888 painting, "The Organ Rehearsal."

1. At the age of 17, Henry Lerolle was a pupil of Louis Lamothe, who also instructed Edgar Degas. Lerolle also studied at Académie Suisse, but never attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. By age 20, though, he was exhibiting at the Paris Salon.

2. In addition to painting, collecting, and patronizing, Lerolle also worked for a time at the Louvre, where he met other artists, including Albert Besnard and Jean-Louis Forain, and spent time studying and copying the works of Nicolas Poussin (classical French painter), Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish Baroque painter), and Paolo Veronese (Italian Renaissance painter).

3. 20 avenue Duquesne, Lerolle's home, was a meeting place for the artistic community of the day. Both Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were friends with Lerolle, who was also a patron of them. Renoir painted several portraits of Lerolle's daughters and Lerolle himself. The composer Claude Debussy dedicated several piano works to Lerolle's daughter Yvonne, and was often at the home, along with fellow composers Vincent d'Indy, Paul Dukas, and Ernest Chausson (who was married to Lerolle's sister-in-law).

4. At 88.75 inches high and 143 inches wide, "The Organ Rehearsal" is an extremely large canvas, in which all the figures are life-size and full-length. The figures include Henry Lerolle himself (the bearded man staring out of the canvas), his wife (seated, with music on her lap), his wife's sister (seated and leaning on her sister's chair), and his wife's other sister (the singer). It is also possible, though not proven, that Claude Debussy is also depicted.

5. Within eleven years from its creation, "The Organ Rehearsal" had become a "favorite picture" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, attracting attention for its realism. Yet by 1928, the painting had been relegated to the bowels of the museum. Only this past February was "The Organ Rehearsal" re-discovered, cleaned, and brought out of storage to be displayed in the refurbished European galleries.

A larger version is available here.

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April 22, 2008 - 11:28am
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